In the past few months, there has been a distinct change in the recruitment strategy within Swansea City’s academy. Previously a set-up of almost entirely local youngsters who had been at the club since they were children, Swansea are now taking a more modern approach to academy football.
Article by @scfctheo
It’s important to stress that Swansea are not ditching their academy and there will, hopefully, still be plenty of local heroes to follow in the footsteps of Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts, Ben Davies & Joe Allen in making it all the way to their boyhood club’s first-team – but Swansea have clearly approached how they are building their academy sides.
This season, Swansea have brought in a raft of youth prospects from other clubs, all of which joined up with Kristian O’Leary’s u23:
- Lincoln McFayden (Preston)
- Nico Hansen (Everton)
- Dylan Morgan (Forest Green)
- Azeem Abdulai (Leicester)
- Sam Leverett (Leeds)
- Jaden Forrester (Wolves)
- Tarrelle Whittaker (Tottenham)
- Jack Stafford (Waterford)
- Joe Thomas (Cambrian & Clydach)
In addition, there are already three players who could be signed for next season – centre-back Ben Blythe has reportedly agreed to join from Doncaster Rovers while goalkeeper Harry Seaden and midfielder John Freeman have been in on trial from Southend and MK Dons respectively. Ben Hughes, Filip Lissah, David Roberts, Zane Myers, Richard Faakye, Charlie Veevers, Corey Hurford and Kyrell Wilson also all arrived to the u18s in the summer.
While bringing young players into the club is nothing new for Swansea – see Dan James, Oli McBurnie, Kyle Joseph and George Byers as recent examples – the volume of youth recruitment is new.
Swansea are targeting players primarily aged 19 or 20, a later age for academy football, often with some first-team experience already. This method creates more of a ‘B team’ culture around the u23’s side and, while there are no suggestions that the Swans will follow the likes of Brentford, Huddersfield and Southampton in scrapping their older academy age-groups altogether, it is an approach that makes sense.
Swansea no longer possesses the budget to have 25 quality first-team players on their books, so having a lower quantity, higher-quality approach to their first with support offered by a group of more experienced youngsters is a system that does make a lot of sense.
Swansea have lost a lot of academy players over the last few years, whether to other clubs or to the first-team, and while it ultimately shows the success of the clubs academy system, it has also set the current u23 and u18 sides back by quite a bit.
In fact, the Swans saw virtually the entire spine of their PL Cup-winning u23’s team leave the academy during the 2018/19 season when Graham Potter called on Cian Harries, Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts, George Byers, Daniel James, Oli McBurnie and Courtney Baker-Richardson for the first-team and, with Steven Benda, Brandon Cooper, Ben Cabango, Jordon Garrick and Liam Cullen amongst the players to step-up in the years since, a number of u18 players have been promoted to the u23’s side to fill gaps.
In short, Swansea have had to adapt how their academy operates due to an unforeseen golden generation coming through at the same time, a natural slowing down of youth prospects ready for the first-team and the demotion of the academy to Category 2 due to cost-cutting measures following relegation back to the Championship.
It’s far easier said than done, and of course, there won’t be a 100% success rate, but bringing in and nurturing released academy players from Premier League clubs or young prospects from lower league clubs could prove an effective and profitable method to maintain the stream of players from academy to first-team alongside existing local stars, of which Cameron Congreve became the latest debutant at the weekend against Blackpool.
Having explained the new method and its reasons, let’s take a closer look at the aforementioned players who look set to join the club next season.
Firstly, a move for Doncaster Rovers centre-back Ben Blythe has been all-but-confirmed by their manager Gary McSheffrey, who confirmed to the press that the 20-year-old will join the Swans ‘for a fee’ in the summer.
As previously stated, Swansea’s recruitment team are looking for players who have already started the transition into first-team football and Blythe’s seven senior outings so far for Doncaster ensure that he ticks that box.
Additionally, Blythe is a left-footed centre-back, something of a commodity in the modern-day game, especially as Swansea usually play a back 3 and need a left-footer on the left side of it.
The other named trialists so far are Harry Seaden and John Freeman. 20-year-old goalkeeper Seaden was at Southend United until February, when his contract was terminated by mutual consent after he struggled to nail down a place in their first team, making 5 senior appearances to date.
He has always been highly regarded at youth level – playing 3 times for England’s u17’s under a certain Steve Cooper – and has spent time on trial at fellow Championship side Derby County this season who, in different circumstances, could well have offered him a contract.
Although he struggled when first introduced into Southend’s first team, he is still a very young keeper with enormous potential and someone who could offer support to the Swans senior goalkeeping group.
Finally, manager Russell Martin would’ve been reunited with a familiar face when John Freeman joined up with the u23’s on trial. 20-years-old and contracted to MK Dons until the end of the season, Freeman was part of Martin’s MK squad last season, appearing 11 times for the first-team.
Freeman has spent time on loan with Chelmsford City in the National League South this term, gaining valuable senior experience. It has been suggested that, like Blythe, Freeman is set to join the Swans in the summer and could be another player, like Kyle Joseph or Morgan Whittaker, who lives in between the first-team and u23’s – potentially gaining experience out on loan as well – further adding to the B team, rather than youth team, feel at Swansea’s new-look academy.